Tuesday, February 22, 2011

patching a heavenly leak - 補天穿

The lunar new year is here and gone.

From the start of the new moon to the first full moon of the lunar first month – traditionally each of the new day’s within the fortnight was marked with a special event. The last of which is yuanxiao – 元宵 - or Lantern Festival.

In between - there is the day to mark the birth of man - the 7th day of the Lunar New Year –人日- renri .

On this day mum would cook a dish with seven different types of green vegetables. Some years we would have porridge cooked with slices of raw fish.

This tradition of taking raw fish & vegetables to mark mankind’s birthday has morphed into the colorful must have LNY dish 鱼生- yusheng - & the rowdy joy of tossing it sky high while mumbling lucky wishes.

Lest we may forget it all – I recall another tradition of sort in the first lunar month. The eating of fried nian-gao – 年糕 - which was made from slices of the sticky new year cake fried with flour batter.

Returning from school in the afternoon, mum would have the fried nian-gao ready in the kitchen cabinet. A variation would have the nian-gao sandwiched with pieces of sweet potato and fried with batter. This would be the first time that we had a taste of the nian-gao since it was made about a fortnight or so before the LNY.

The tradition of eating fried nian-gao fell on the 20th day of the First Lunar Month on the day known as –补天穿 - butian chuan - or day of patching a heavenly leak.

Legend had it that during a clash between the Water & Fire Gods, the Water God damaged the pillar that held up heaven and created a hole in heaven causing great floods on earth.

Nuwa –女娲 - a mythical female goddess – & the creator of mankind – seeing the suffering on earth went to patch the heavenly leak, and thus saving mankind.

This tale is as old as antiquity.

A google in the www has it that this day is still remembered and celebrated among the Hakka in the heartland in Southern China and in Taiwan – by preparing and eating sweet cakes made from glutinous rice.

Come to think of it – ours would perhaps be the last in our generation that would recall that we had this tradition of remembering this day - butian chuan - 补天穿 - by eating fried nian-gao.

Postscript –

1. Day of Patching a heavenly leak - 補天穿 - falls on the 22Feb 0211.

2. Nian-gao - 年糕 - & kagami-mochi - 鏡餅

Nian-gao - 年糕

The nian-gao was home made. It’s made of glutinous rice and sugar.

A fortnight or so before the LNY mum would buy a good quality glutinous rice from the market – and have it soaked overnight.

The next morning she would take it to a grinder – a family house in the neighbor that offered this flour grinding service - and had the rice grounded to flour.

The task of making the nian-gao would begin in the evening. The flour was kneaded with sugar.

As the sugar melted it would get sticky and thicker in viscosity on blending with the flour. As such it was quite a energy consuming task that required a strong pairs of hand.

Then, after an hour or so of kneading the even brownish paste would be poured into mold – of tin cans layered with banana leaves. Before dawn the next morning– the can would be steamed in a big wok for close to 10 hours.

During the nian-gao making, it was narrated by the elders that grandma was particular that there were no frivolous talk or inauspicious comments around the table. As kids would tend to babble freely, grandma was particular to have the kids to keep quiet if they wanted to watch, or to shoo the children away in they talk.

For it was believed that any inauspicious comments would affect the outcome of the nian-gao – and the nian-gao would not cook well and remain whitish, or water pock marks would form on the surface. This would be a bad omen for the New Year.

A rich brown nian-gao with a shiny surface - would be an indication of a lucky start to the coming New Year.

This would be the local version of nian-gao – with its roots from Southern China.

Later I got to know that the Shanghai type of nian-gao – pieces of white glutinous rice – is closer to the Japanese version – plain glutinous rice without sugar.

Kagami – mochi - 鏡餅

The Japanese nian-gao is known as kagami mochi. Kagami means mirror. As it is round – and with similar shape of a bronze mirror – as such it is called kagami mochi.

The Japanese nian-gao is too made of glutinous rice but without sugar added, as such retaining its white color.

As a New Year decoration or offering is that it is often stacked in double layer – with an orange or other auspicious decorations placed at the top.


1. Nuwa - 女娲


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

spring couplet - 桃符万户换新春

What do a sprouting bean, young grasses, and the sun have in common? You could try a guess at the character.

Well, the character is the - zhuan form - 蒃体– of the Chinese word for –春 - SPRING – chun , Though it has morphed into its present form - 春 - the element for sun - 日 - is recognizable in both the characters, while, the radicals for a sprouting bean and the young grass have been simplified into three horizontal bars and two left and right tops down strokes.

With the warm sun & seeds start sprouting, with young grasses appearing on the fields – nature is signaling the arrival of spring.

As a writing form to communicate the spring season – these elements of new life and energy – were clearly seen in the oracle bones characters of the Shang-Yin Dynasty - 商殷 - (1600-1046BCE)some thousand odd years ago.

Subsequently the sketch was standardized to the – zhuan form - 蒃体– during the Qin Dynasty 秦朝 (221-206BCE) in the reign of the First Emperor.

When nature awakes after a long wintry slumber, it is time to till & farm the land. As such, spring is also the season of a new beginning – of a new plan and a new starting. In the traditional agrarian Chinese society where livelihood is so closely tied to the land and the changing seasons the Spring Festival - 春节- chun jie – is akin to the beginning of a New Year – 新年-xin nian.

One of the traditional practices during the Chinese New Year – is writing spring couplet - 春联 - chunlian . The couplet usually in two stanzas of five or seven-syllable – praises the arrival of Spring and convey good wishes.

Here’s a seven-syllable spring couplet - adapted from a poem Wang Anshi – 王安石- (1021-1086CE) of the Song Dynasty - 宋朝 (960-1279CE).


Baozhu yisheng chu jiusui
Taofu wanhu huan xinchun

-With a bang of the firecrackers - adieu the old year
Myriad families changing taofu – heralding spring -

Here’s wishing you - in the year of 辛卯 - xinmao - cyle of year of rabbit -
Good Heath & Good Luck & May your wishes come true -



1. Wang Anshi

元日 Yuan ri – Fist Day of New Year


屠苏 - 酒名用屠苏草浸泡而成, 据说饮了可辟瘟疫。旧时元日有饮屠苏酒的风俗

Tusu - name of wine, made from tusu herb, drinking will purportedly be able to prevent plague. In the olden days it is a custom of drinking tusu wine on the first day of New Year.

桃符 - 古时风俗,元旦用桃木板写神茶,邮垒二神名,悬挂门旁, 以为能压压邪

Taofu – a mahogany board written with the name of the gods – shencha and youlei – and hung on each side of the main door during new year to ward of evil.


1. 王安石

2007年6月30日百胜楼上海书局购 6元15新币

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Anshi

3. http://zhidao.baidu.com/question/20740431